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Birds Guide


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A female and male Mallard
A female and male Mallard
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae

Duck is the common name for a number of species in the Anatidae family of birds. The ducks are divided between several subfamilies listed in full in the Anatidae article. Ducks are mostly aquatic birds, mostly smaller than their relatives the swans and geese, and may be found in both fresh water and sea water.

Most ducks have a wide flat beak adapted for dredging. They exploit a variety of food sources such as grasses, grains and aquatic plants, fish, and insects. Diving ducks forage deep underwater; Dabbling ducks feed on the surface of water or land. Dabbling ducks have special plates called lamellae[1] that are similar to a whale's baleen. These tiny rows of plates along the inside of the bill allow them to filter water out of the side of their bills and keep food inside. To be able to submerge more easily, the diving ducks are heavier than dabbling ducks, and therefore have more difficulty taking off to fly. A few specialized species (the goosander and the mergansers) are adapted to catch large fish.

In Ohio, one of a duck's biggest enemies is the muskie, which has been known to eat fully grown ducks. In Britain, big pike have been known to swallow fully grown wild ducks whole, and pike often take small ducklings.

The males (drakes) of northern species often have extravagant plumage, but this is moulted in summer to give a more female-like appearance, the "eclipse" plumage. Many species of ducks are temporarily flightless while moulting; they seek out protected habitat with good food supplies during this period. This moult typically precedes migration.

Some duck species, mainly those breeding in the temperate and arctic Northern Hemisphere, are migratory, but others are not. Some, particularly in Australia where rainfall is patchy and erratic, are nomadic, seeking out the temporary lakes and pools that form after localised heavy rain.

Some people use "duck" specifically for adult females and "drake" for adult males, for the species described here; others use "hen" and "drake", respectively.

Ducks are sometimes confused with several types of unrelated water birds with similar forms, such as loons or divers, grebes, gallinules, and coots.


The word duck from (Anglo-Saxon dūce) meaning the bird, came from the verb "to duck" (from Anglo-Saxon supposed *dūcan) meaning "to bend down low as if to get under something", because of the way many species in the dabbling duck group feed by upending (compare the Dutch word duiken = "to dive").

This happened because the older Old English word for "duck" came to be pronounced the same as the word for "end": other Germanic languages still have similar words for "duck" and "end": for example, Dutch eend = "duck", eind = "end"; compare Latin anas (stem anat-) = "duck", Sanskrit anta (masc.) = "end", Lithuanian antis = "duck".

Ducks and humans

In many areas, wild ducks of various species (including ducks farmed and released into the wild) are hunted for food or sport, by shooting, or formerly by decoys. From this came the expression "a sitting duck", which means "an easy target".

Ducks have many economic uses, being farmed for their meat, eggs, feathers and down feathers. They are also kept and bred by aviculturists and often displayed in zoos. All domestic ducks are descended from the wild Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, except Muscovy Ducks[2]. Many breeds have become much larger than their wild ancestor, with a "hull length" (from base of neck to base of tail) of 30 cm (12 inches) or more and routinely able to swallow an adult British Common Frog, Rana temporaria, whole.

Foie gras is often made using the liver of ducks, rather than of geese.

In a wildlife pond, the bottom over most of the area should be too deep for dabbling wild ducks to reach the bottom, to protect bottom-living life from being constantly disturbed and eaten by wild ducks dredging, and domestic ducks should not be allowed in.

Generally, the sound made by ducks is called a "quack". A common false urban legend asserts that quacks do not echo.[3]

Ducks and humor

In 2002, psychologist Richard Wiseman and colleagues at the University of Hertfordshire (UK) finished a year-long LaughLab experiment, concluding that, of the animals in the world, the duck is the type that attracts most humor and silliness; he said "If you're going to tell a joke involving an animal, make it a duck." The word "duck" may have become an inherently funny word in many languages because ducks are seen as a silly animal, and their odd appearance compared to other birds. Of the many ducks in fiction, many are silly cartoon characters (see the New Scientist article [1] mentioning humor in the word "duck").


  • Some Ancient Egyptian wall pictures show that (some of) the ships of the Sea Peoples had ornamental prows shaped like a duck's head.[4]


See also


  1. ^ Ogden, Evans. Dabbling Ducks. CWE. Retrieved on 2006-11-02.
  2. ^ Mallard - Nature Notes. Ducks Unlimited Canada. Retrieved on 2006-11-02.
  3. ^ Amos, Jonathan. Sound science is quackers. BBC News. Retrieved on 2006-11-02.
  4. ^ Cornelius. The Battle of the Nile. The South African Military History Society. Retrieved on 2006-11-02.

External links

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